Scottdale woman, 58, eager to start third career after earning master’s in special education
With apologies to writer F. Scott Fitzgerald who “once thought that there were no second acts in American lives,” Anita Vivio is well on the way to her third.
At 58, Vivio has had satisfying careers in retail management and food services. Now, the Scottdale woman is ready to start a career in education after she picks up her master’s degree in special education Monday at Seton Hill University’s winter commencement.
Vivio is among 141 students receiving degrees.
The outgoing mother of four does not fit easily into traditional student stereotypes, but she’s not alone. Although the majority of the nation’s more than 19 million college students are 25 or younger, U.S. Department of Education reports show more than half a million men and women older than 50 are enrolled in degree programs at two- and four-year colleges and universities across the country.
Vivio didn’t plan to be a college student in her late 50s.
She earned an associate degree in retail management at Westmoreland County Community College in 1978 and went to work for Fashion Bug, where she became a store manager. After 15 years, health issues with her third pregnancy forced her out of retail.
Vivio went back to school and earned an associate degree in culinary arts and food services and eventually became a bakery manager, banquet manager and caterer.
“I’ve always loved to bake, so it was a natural for me,” Vivio said.
A shoulder injury from an auto accident ended that career.
“I couldn’t toss around 50-pound bags of flour and sugar after that,” she said.
So she decided to pull together her interests and study family and consumer science at Seton Hill. The university, which has had an adult degree program for three decades, takes special pride in helping older students achieve their goals.
Seton Hill Provost Sister Susan Yochum said adult students like Vivio stand out for their approach to college.
“They really model lifelong learning, time management, focus and resilience. And traditional students’ energy inspires the older student,” Yochum said.
The provost, who taught Vivio organic chemistry, described her as “a delightful student.”
Between scholarships from Seton Hill and student loans, Vivio cobbled together a path to a bachelor’s degree in a little more than three years.
While student teaching, she found special joy in working with students who faced intellectual, social and emotional challenges. That led Vivio to pursue a master’s degree in special education in 2014, never doubting that it would lead to good things.
She said she had a great role model in her mother, who with Vivio’s father raised 16 children.
“I learned so much in her kitchen,” she said.
Despite having inherited a can-do attitude, Vivio conceded that jumping into student debt in her 50s was daunting.
“Now, I know I just have to find a really, really good job. And if I die, hey, the loans die with me. I felt I was worth the investment. If I’m not willing to invest in me, who is going to be? But I really couldn’t have done this without all the help Seton Hill gave me,” Vivio said. “At one time, when you’re young, it’s all about bringing home a paycheck. But I just felt something was egging me on to do this. I just thank God he gave me the patience to finish it.”
Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.